Vegan Diets have Plenty of Protein for Muscle-Building

by Michael Bluejay

The $6 million question is: "how much protein do we need for health and fitness (especially for athletes)?" The answer: "no more than we can get from a plant-based diet."

Protein content of various foods




Nuts & Seeds








Need (Human need)  


Plant foods supply plenty of protein even for athletes and those trying to build muscle, according to numerous studies in peer-reviewed journals.  The amount of protein recommended even for athletes by official nutrition and sports bodies is easily supplied by vegetables.  Anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't bothered to look up what the science actually says.

It's true that meat has more protein than vegetables, but more isn't better, it's useless.  The excess you eat beyond what you need is simply wasted.  If you're shopping for a car, and one goes 200 mph and the other goes 400 mph, the faster car isn't better, because you're not allowed to drive even 200 mph anyway.  Two hundred mph is more than you need for a car, and plant foods supply more protein than you need from food.  As one science journal said, "...protein beyond that necessary to maintain nitrogen balance does not provide additional benefits for athletes."10

Simple math makes this clear.  We simply figure the amount of muscle you can build, how much protein is in that new muscle, and then how much extra protein you'd have to eat to account for that new muscle.  When we do that, we see that, not surprisingly, the amount of extra protein you'd need to build the muscle is right in line with what the authorities recommend.

And no, vegetable protein isn't of poorer quality.  That's another myth that stems from bad criteria for quality.  But even if we erroneously assumed that plant protein is only 75% as good as animal protein, then vegetables still supply 22% x 75% = 16.5% protein, which is still plenty.  Anyone who insists otherwise, please show me the peer-reviewed science performed on actual humans (not guessing) to support that claim.

So let's look at what the science actually says.  In a recent study older adults doing either lower-body or whole-body resistance training increased their muscle strength and mass on the US RDA for protein of only 0.36 g per lb. of body weight.1  For a 120-lb. person eating 2000 calories or a 180-lb. person eating 2500 calories, that's 8.6% to 10.4% of their diets as protein.  And as the table above shows, vegetables average 22% protein and beans 28%.

Another study suggested that established bodybuilders need around 0.48 g of protein per pound of body weight per day (1.05 g/kg). (Incidentally, it also found that endurance athletes require more protein than bodybuilders -- 1.67 times more than sedentary controls for endurance vs. 1.12 times for bodybuilders.)  For an 180-lb. athlete the 0.48 g/lb. figure is 90 grams (360 calories from protein).  For a 3000-calorie diet, that's 12% of calories from protein. And again, vegetables average 22% and beans 28%.

Those starting a muscle-building program may need more protein, 0.77 g/lb. (1.7 g/kg).  For a 180-lb. athlete that's 139 grams (556 calories). On a 3000-calorie diet, that's 18.5%, still less than supplied by common vegetables.

If the athlete eats more than 3000 calories a day, or weighs less than 180 lbs., then the percentage of protein required goes down even more.

In 2009 three major health bodies endorsed the 0.5 to 0.8 g/lb. (1.2-1.7 g/kg) figures above (American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine).

Jack Norris, RD points out that nutrient recommendations are always "padded" with safety margins. That is, most people need less: "It seems reasonable to conclude that the protein needs of most vegan bodybuilders are somewhere between 0.8 and 1.5 g/kg (0.36 and 0.68 g/lb) of body weight. The Food and Nutrition Board, which sets the RDA, reviewed Lemon et al.'s study and others and concluded there is no sufficient evidence to support that resistance training increases the protein RDA of 0.80 g/kg [0.36 g/lb] for healthy adults."

Vegetarian-specific research

There's not a lot of good, current research on strength-training for meat-eaters vs. vegetarians, and even less on vegans.  The Campbell study showed that meat-eaters didn't develop any more strength than the vegetarians.  The meat-eaters did develop more muscle fiber, which has to be small consolation if they didn't actually get any stronger.  And if vegetarians are truly at a (small) disadvantage, it's probable that that could be erased with plant-based supplements (soy, rice, or pea).  In any event, the question is not whether vegetarians and vegans can build muscle, even without supplements, since we absolutely, unequivocally know that they can and do.  At right is the science I was able to find comparing vegans to non-vegans.

Examples of successful vegetarian and vegan athletes ... More...

While not vegan, we mostly limit our animal protein to fish, especially wild salmon, and eat lots of the healthy plant-based protein sources mentioned in this article. We have never been healthier or stronger; we are living the truth that we do not need either a lot of protein or animal protein for health and fitness.

Beyond the macro nutrients in our diet (carbs., protein and fat), we also know the importance of micro-nutrition (also from a plant-based diet), that bolsters our cellular health and fitness. Juice Plus+ is a huge contributor to that cellular health - proven. More...

To fully understand this please watch the video featuring Dr. Richard DuBois below.